It makes for quite an unconventional sight when a lady walks onto the cricket field wearing bangles and starts giving instructions to a bunch of budding cricketers, but it hardly takes a minute to understand that she commands respect of one and all because of her sincerity, devotion and hard work.
Her students greet her by touching her feet everyday, while her colleagues bow in respect when Sunita Sharma makes it to her coaching centre and it doesn't come as a surprise as she has earned every bit of it through her unparallel dedication in the last 27 years.
She not just created history by becoming the first woman cricket coach of the country but over the years she has proved her worth by producing innumerable national and internationals players – both men and women. Silencing her critics, she has achieved what was once thought as 'impossible'.
Fighting against odds - especially the gender-discrimination, the road to success hasn't being easy for this Dornacharya awardee.
As the lady puts it, "It was very difficult for me initially and the senior boys were not ready to take me as a coach. They would challenge me and ask to play certain kinds of shots, besides teasing me but I never let that affect me. Even the parents were reluctant to send their kids to me and would rather prefer my male counterparts.
"However, the problems lasted for only a year as eventually people found out that I am equally capable as compared to my male colleagues, while, in addition I have a motherly caring side to me as well. Moreover, my patient dealing with the kids made me popular and things became easy gradually."
Apart from her coaching abilities, it was the media she says who have taken her cause and gave her confidence during her tough times.
"Media was the main driving force behind me. They used to write about me and appreciate my work. All that gave me enough strength to carry on initially."
With a little encouragement she went on the make cricketers of international stature and her real moment of glory came when Deep Dasgupta, whom she had trained since he was seven, broke into the national team and also hit a century in a Test against England in Mohali.
She still talks too fondly of Dasgupta and is all praise for his technique which according to her is rare and not many openers in India have it. But she is not very happy with him joining the Indian Cricket League (ICL).
"I think, he took a wrong decision of playing for the ICL. He still has got the potential to play for India, I feel. And at least through IPL, he could have stayed in the mainstream. It is unfortunate he couldn't continue," said the veteran coach, who has also produced players like Vishal Sharma, Shubash Chaudhury, Sumeet Dogra and Ajay Verma, who have done well at the junior and domestic levels over the years.
Amongst the current lot too there are a few who she thinks can make it big. Rishabh Vasisht (wicketkeeper batsman), Saurabh Kumar (a left-arm spinner) and Manoj Kumar. Two girls – Anita Sharma (medium pacer) and Asha Rawat (batsman) have played at the national level. Sneha has played the junior and senior nationals and is a great prospect for the national team as well.
In the past, the 49-year-old has also produced over 20 women cricketers who have represented national, Delhi State and the Combined University levels. The list has names like Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain, Shashi Gupta, Mani Mala, and many more.
Besides, she has conducted the maximum number of all-India coaching camps for women and has even trained veterans like Shanta Rangaswamy and Diana Edulji, both of whom were former Indian captains, apart from Padma Shree award winner - Gargi Banerjee, Anjali Pandharkar, Sandhya Aggarwal and Subhangi Kulkarni. She also accompanied the women's cricket team as its coach in Test and One-Day International matches.
She feels that though the condition of women's cricket has improved over the years, especially after BCCI taking over, a lot more is required to be done.
"As a coach, I think the grooming should start from the school level . Girls will take up the game at the school level only when a lot more job opportunities are created, besides giving them the same facilities as boys."
Although she herself was in national reckoning and was selected for the Indian women's squad as a medium-pacer, she could not play for the country. Her own failure made her all the more determined to become a coach and live her dreams through her students.
Sunita, who lost her father at the age of four, was tomboyish and used to play kho-kho in the gali. It was her mother who understood her interest in sports and stood by her to pursue it further.
In fact, her mother, who is a cricket buff and a very practical person, suggested Sunita to opt for cricket giving away kho-kho even after she played at the national level.
"She always understood that I wasn't into academics. She encouraged me to get enrolled in a cricket coaching programme for women that started at that time in Janaki Devi College and from there on I never looked back. I owe all my success to my mother," admitted Sunita.
Later it was her husband - Dinesh Tomar, a player and a trainer with the ONGC team, who became her backbone and gave her unconditional support along with her even more understanding in-laws.
But being a mother of two it takes a toll out of her to manage both home and work simultaneously.
"God has given enough strength to women to work out everything effectively and I also manage."
Otherwise, a soft-spoken woman, she transforms completely into an extremely strict discipliner while coaching. Her interaction with students doesn't stop on the field. She counsels them on taking proper diet, getting them admitted in a particular school as well as taking up a fight with selectors if a pupil has the real potential.
"Even when I am at home, I am thinking about what will benefit a student, which can mean taking out a child from one particular school and convincing the parents to get him admitted to another that has better cricketing facilities.
"In fact, if I am convinced that a player has the talent I even go his house to check out the standard of living and accordingly give tips on his diet. Besides, during team selections, I fight hard to push one's cause as well," explained Sunita.
On and off the field, over the years, the lady has battled a number of hardships - breaking down at times as well. But her passion for the game kept her going even though the rewards were few and far between.
"I have issues when no one recognizes coaches. They are the one who are working so hard to groom a player but they are not getting anything in return except for satisfaction, whereas the players are making hell lot of money. The Dronacharya award was the only recognition I ever got."